Post-Truth in the Suburbs

Police officers stand guard as supporters of U.S. President Donald Trump gather in front of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, U.S., January 6, 2021. Credit: REUTERS/Leah Millis

The rancorous divisiveness Donald Trump has wrought in the country at large is playing out in the microcosm of local Facebook “mom” groups, turning neighbor against neighbor. To be honest, it’s been like this for four years now—or more if you count the 2016 election—but it has reached a crescendo of animosity and vitriol in the days following the insurrection at the Capitol. I generally steer clear of political arguments in these groups. People are dug in on either side, and there is no convincing anyone of anything not in their circle of beliefs. Couple that with the post-truth era we are in and there’s an astonishing number of people living in a fact-free world who become furious when confronted with anything that is outside their preferred “alternative reality.” My town is no different. Too many people have believed the Big Lie (a propaganda technique that the Nazis used to great effect) that the election was stolen, and now they’re believing a second Big Lie. I had to break my rule about staying out of Facebook political arguments that are sparked by the clash of reality and the delusions spread by Trump and his allies. I had no choice…

One day after the horrifying violence at the Capitol a furious—absolutely apoplectic—mom posted that her child had to read a factual account of the insurrection and answer questions about it. She was so angry, because it began with the sentence, “A violent mob loyal to President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, 2021.” This is a fact. It’s indisputable. No matter…she raged that it did not mention, in her words, “that they were all Antifa!” Now, before anyone questions if it’s ethical for me to write about a post that is in a private group – it was a share of her original post, which was public. If your post’s privacy setting is “public” on Facebook, any fallout from your posts is on you and you alone. There should be no expectation of privacy. I would imagine, though that she did have an expectation of a conflict and was likely quite pleased that it indeed created a nasty, vitriol-spewing comment thread.

Back to why I joined in the carnage of that thread… The poster also said that she made sure that the school knew her displeasure. Several other people shared that they too had contacted the school, angry about a letter the superintendent sent out earlier in the day. That letter was measured and thoughtful and assured that children would be supported by extra mental health professionals who were brought in to assuage the fears that scenes of blood-thirsty rioters storming the seat of U.S. democracy may have engendered. It also mentioned that the social studies department had immediately prepared lessons that both explained the event and would have students “practicing skills to consume news and media reports on the event.” The district prides itself on producing savvy consumers of both news and social media—students who are thoughtful, engaged and empathetic and who know violence is never the answer. I was extremely grateful that my son’s history teacher extended the deadline to submit a test, so that they could delve into a discussion about the events of January 6th. They examined what sparked it, the repercussions, historical context and more. I heard some of the discussion, just by virtue of being in the same room, and it was really heartening. His teacher was presenting facts and they dove right into an intelligent, respectful and likely reassuring conversation. So, when I saw this person trashing the school district for allowing this, I felt the need to speak up. Here is my comment:

“I was so incredibly grateful that my son’s history teacher changed his planned lesson, so they could talk about what happened—an insurrection. They had a thoughtful, intelligent conversation full of facts, and were able to really get into how Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric, coupled with the ‘Big Lie’ he and his allies have been telling, all culminated in the violence that left 5 dead. It was an assault on democracy, and it was also history (tragic history) in the making…it will be studied in text books. It was NOT antifa (which isn’t even an organization, but simply a belief system). The rioters were planning this out in the open. It was on Twitter and Parler. They were bragging about it on social media before, during and after. They gave interviews. Trump said, ‘We love you. You’re special.’ He would not have said that unless he thought they were his ‘patriots.’ Every single thing he said—including his marching orders to go to the Capitol—was followed. Rudy Giuliani urged, ‘Trial by combat!’ Don Jr. declared, ‘We’re coming for you, and we’ll have a good time doing it!’ They just couldn’t control the Frankenstein they created, so now it’s easier to blame someone else. Oh and the person wearing furs and horns is Jake Angelli, the ‘QAnon Shaman.’ He was photographed at BLM protests, because he was there as a counter-protester. I know the truth is difficult, but it’s important—now more than ever. And our children deserve to be taught a way to process these events without any bias.”

I thought I was respectful. Apparently, I was “delusional” and an evil Democrat for even trying to shatter the bubble of lies. There is zero evidence that the crowd was infiltrated by “ANTIFA” and BLM people—the second Big Lie—and that they were the murderous ones who did all the damage. Zero. In an article debunking Facebook posts saying that left-leaning activist, John Sullivan, incited the protest, Politifact states: “Those claiming antifa infiltrated or led the mob at the Capitol have provided no proof. The evidence of Trump supporters participating, however, is indisputable.” Much of that evidence comes from the Trump supporters themselves. They had been planning this for weeks out in the open.

A few days before the insurrection I said to my husband, “January 6th will be horrendous.” I had seen all the chatter on Twitter, and I knew it was going to be bad. If I, just a regular citizen, knew something terrible was about to go down, why weren’t Capitol police better prepared? Increasingly, evidence is pointing to a deliberate effort from the top (Trump and allies) to sabotage law enforcement’s ability to take a strong, impenetrable stand. National Guardsmen requested by DC’s Mayor Bowser were initially denied and Maryland’s governor, Larry Hogan, was not granted permission to send troops until nightfall. So, not only was there zero evidence of antifa leading the riots, there was plenty of evidence that a failure of leadership compounded the destruction. As I watched the horror unfold from my living room, I said to my son, “If this was a BLM protest, they would have been gassed and sprayed with rubber bullets already.” It’s a miracle there weren’t more casualties, and I pray that they are better prepared for any violence that may erupt between now and the inauguration.

There was also zero evidence of fraud in the election, that first Big Lie. Sixty plus lawsuits were thrown out. For God’s sake, the Supreme Court threw it out. The Justice Department said there was no evidence of fraud. The person in charge of ensuring the election was free and fair, Donald Trump’s own appointee, Christopher Krebs, said there was no evidence of fraud and that it was the most secure election in history. Even Mitch McConnell said to move on. There is no more partisan, evil, power-hungry person in government (besides Trump) than McConnell, and even he said there was no fraud. But…but Donald Trump said there was fraud, and that was all that mattered. How can it be that every other person is lying, except for the person who is known to be a…LIAR?

I am NOT saying that every person who voted for Trump feels this way. I have friends who voted for Trump, I have never cut ties with anyone for their political beliefs. But, I’m pretty sure most have accepted that he lost and moved on. It’s normal to be upset, even devastated, if your candidate loses. It’s unhealthy, not to mention dangerous, to continue to live in a fantasy that he was cheated, when all facts show otherwise. Likewise, believing that it was not Trump supporters who stormed the Capitol, when all facts (and many, many tweets and Parler posts) show otherwise, strains credulity. And demanding that an entire school district bend to that fantasy is dangerous and unconscionable. That’s why I spoke up.

There were over fifty replies to my comment. Many of them were arguments among other people, in which I did not get involved. Some of them supported what I said, but more vilified me. My favorite insult was that I, and others who agreed with me, are “walking, talking Rachel Maddows and Don Lemons.” I was thinking, Hell yeah—I’m a walking, talking Rachel Maddow! (BTW, that sounds like he best doll ever.) I replied, “This isn’t the insult you think it is…Rachel Maddow graduated from Stanford and has a doctorate from Oxford University. I’d love to be a ‘walking, talking’ Rachel Maddow. And Don Lemon is intelligent, insightful and empathetic too.” That’s when I was informed that I’m “delusional” and that the people I admire, Rachel Maddow and Don Lemon, are “stupid.” In response, I simply pointed out that that accusation would be more forceful, if the commenter’s spelling, grammar and punctuation were correct. That did not go over well. She accused me of humiliating her because I’m Democrat and have “nothing else to say.” I’m a writer and a former English major. I correct everyone’s grammar. Just ask my husband. It’s annoying, yes—but has nothing to do with politics. I’m sharing all this, because I really tried to be respectful—the rudest I got was correcting spelling. But, that didn’t matter to the people vehemently arguing with me.

You know what does matter, though? The truth. The truth matters, and again, that’s why I decided to wade into the controversy when I usually steer clear. I honestly would rather they say that the Trump supporters had a right to riot, than that they insist that it wasn’t Trump supporters at all, but rather “evil leftists.” I wouldn’t agree with them AT ALL, but it’s their (misguided) opinion—rather than completely ignoring the simple facts and creating an alternative fantasy, in which there is no culpability for Trump and others who whipped the crowd into a frenzy. If it was a matter of opinion—that they had a right to do what they did—perhaps, just perhaps, one could argue why they did not in fact have the right to storm the Capitol on behalf of Trump. But, the sheer willful ignorance and complexity of mental gymnastics it takes to believe that the people attending Trump’s “Save America Rally” (the people whom he told to march to the Capitol and “fight like hell” and “be strong”) were not in fact the people who then stormed the Capitol is astounding and a bit frightening. How can we have any hope of uniting when a chunk of people are living in a “post-truth” world where facts do not matter? One person even commented in all caps, “NO ONE KNOWS THE ACTUAL TRUTH AND WE PROBABLY NEVER WILL!!!!!” We know the truth, many just refuse to see it.

I spoke up on that thread, knowing there would be backlash, because I’m worried about all the people complaining to the superintendent about her duty to tell the truth. I’m worried that if enough people complain, perhaps the school district might begin walking on eggshells to please the loudest voices. I spoke up, because this disinformation could affect my child and his education. I don’t think that’s likely, but the thought of it makes me shudder. The thought of neighbor against neighbor makes me shudder, as well. It also makes me impossibly sad. Of all the damage that has been done in these past four years, perhaps this is among the worst. I know—the covid body count is far worse, but the death of civility and small-town friendliness is surely something to mourn. I wish I was surprised it got this bad, but I’m not.

I will admit, I cried when Hillary Clinton lost. As I wandered around the supermarket hollow-eyed a few days after the election, I ran into a friend who asked me if I was alright. I didn’t know how to answer. We just kind of nodded at each other and knew. Nothing would be the same again. I knew what Trump was like. I wrote a couple of open letters to him during the 2016 election: Dear Mr. Trump (about my Jewish son and his Muslim best friend) and Dear Mr. Trump Part 2 (about his despicable behavior during the debates) and an essay about The Ugly Election. Being from New York, I personally knew people who were stiffed by him. I knew that he was a racist, sued for discriminatory housing practices, and just a generally lewd creep. (I did not know about all the sexual assault allegations, but those didn’t surprise me. It only surprised and saddened me that people didn’t care.) To people outside of New York, though, he was the shiny new thing. He was the savior. He was the poor man’s vision of a rich, successful man, right down to his gold toilet. I worried that the worst would happen—that we’d never have another election, because he would install himself as a dictator. I wasn’t that far off. At least I wasn’t that far off regarding what he would try, even if he didn’t succeed. Yet…

The day of the election, I wrote The Moment of Truth. In it, I discussed that I had stopped blogging about politics after the 2016 election and that I stopped even posting on Facebook about it, with the exception of petitions for the environment and animal welfare. I knew that nothing I said would change anyone’s minds, and I didn’t want conflict. I also shared that I have never unfriended anyone over politics. I may have muted a few people, but no one I know in “real life.” I was shell shocked by some arguments I had gotten into with people I cared about. I was despondent over people, with whom I thought I was close, disconnecting from me on social media. I even published a novel, Feel No Evil, right before the election that explores the rancorous divide in our nation and how we can possibly move forward and heal. This is part of the blurb: “When the smoke clears and the dust settles in our turbulent times, we’ll need to move past our divisions and back into the hearts and arms of those we’ve always loved.” I really hope that happens. I really hope that the blinders of disinformation fall away. But until then, I will speak up.

The words of my cousin, the great Nazi hunter, Simon Wiesenthal, have been been my guide during the last very dark four years, and will continue to be: “For evil to flourish, it only requires good men do nothing.” With actual Neo-Nazis storming the Capitol, including one wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” sweatshirt with the word “Staff” on the back, the time to do nothing (and say nothing) is long gone…

(For an explanation of all the hate symbols present at the insurrection read this Jewish Telegraph Agency article.)

The Moment of Truth

Photo Credit: Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash

Before today is done, the final vote will be cast (though not counted), and I’m filled with existential dread—the kind that keeps you up late into the night and wakes you at the crack of dawn, anxiety pressing down on your chest, as you sit up gasping. It’s been this way for days, weeks even. The lead-up to the election has been particularly brutal, but I’ve been wracked with anxiety many times over the past four years. There have been so many assaults on our democracy, so much rending of the fabric of our nation and our humanity. And if you’ve been a regular in this space for some time, you know that I wrote about the election in 2016, and that I made my disdain for Donald Trump very clear. You can find those essays here, here and here, if you’d like a refresher or you haven’t read them. But, I haven’t written about this election yet. And I’ve been trying to figure out why…

Part of the reason is just simple logistics. I had a very full plate as election season heated up (I still do). I released my fifth book; I’ve been texting for the Biden – Harris campaign; and perhaps most importantly, I’ve adopted a new love after losing my beloved three-legged rescue, Scruffy in July. My last essay was in June in the wake of George Floyd’s killing. After that, Scruffy went downhill very quickly, and I wanted to spend whatever limited time I had with him, not on my laptop. Not long after he passed away, I decided to self-publish my book, Feel No Evil, because I wanted it out before the election, and traditional publishing would just take too long. And in September we brought home our new furry bundle of love, Mocha. Sweetest boy in the world, but he is a mischievous little guy and likes to get into (and try to eat) everything. So, I’m often running interference, scooping him up for kisses before he can get into trouble or try to steal food from our very chill senior girl. Finally, volunteering for the Biden – Harris campaign has been more urgent than an essay…but writing an essay can help sway the, I don’t know, maybe one undecided voter left at this point.

Because…let’s be real—hardly anyone is undecided. Everyone is firmly in their camps, absolutely convinced that their candidate is the right one and a loss will forever destroy our country. And this is probably the main reason why I haven’t written any essays about the election. Quite honestly, the past four years have been bruising in their divisiveness. I haven’t unfriended anyone nor unfollowed anyone due to political differences (at least not anyone I know personally), but I have been unfriended and unfollowed by Trump supporters with whom I’ve been close, and it disappointed and saddened me. I did “mute” a few people (no one I’ve known for very long or know in real life), but since you don’t know if someone mutes you, it seemed to me a pretty innocuous solution if I didn’t feel like seeing someone’s Q Anon posts.

I also stopped posting anything political on my Facebook profile, with the exception of petitions to oppose Trump’s gutting of animal protections. Animal welfare supersedes my reticence to share my political beliefs. And to me, that’s less about politics and more about kindness. But—and there is a but—I’m in lots of secret “resistance” groups, and I can post with impunity there. I ended up settling mostly in just one, because it’s populated with all people from my area, many of whom I know personally. It even inspired a bit of my novel.

I know that some people may accuse me of “living in a bubble,” but really, who isn’t living in a bubble in our hyper-partisan, rancorous times? You listen to what you want to hear. I switch between CNN and MSNBC. (I will fully admit that I have a huge girl-crush on Rachel Maddow; to me she’s as comforting as a bowl of mashed potatoes with lots of butter and milk. And she spoke so eloquently during my son’s UMass virtual graduation. It’s my alma mater too, so of course I feel a connection now…one sided as it may be. My dream is to have her read my book.) You will never catch me watching Fox News (unless Pete Buttigieg is on). And I’m sure I have friends and family who won’t switch off from Fox News. That’s why I stopped posting. It’s not worth the conflict.

But it’s Election Day, and I have to open my mouth. And in a nod to how difficult it was to write this essay, I will share that the line preceding this first said, “It’s forty-eight hours until election day,” then twenty-four, then twelve, and finally I’m finishing it Election Day morning, oops…Election Day afternoon—nothing like the last minute. But, I have a voice and a (very modest) platform. I need to use it. Of course my almost 5,200 followers on Twitter know exactly how I feel (and that number goes up and down on any given day). I let loose on there on a daily basis. I know I’m preaching to the choir on there, though. Like attracts like, and I have a pretty small percentage of followers whom I can actually sway with those 280 characters. So, why did I decide to speak out on here and why now?

The “Why now?” question is obvious. It’s now or never. The other question is a bit thornier, but I think it boils down to: if I don’t, will I regret staying quiet? Oh and there’s one more thing, spilling my thoughts onto the page (or into a blog post) usually helps with stuff like that existential dread I mentioned. So, here’s what I’m sharing…

If you haven’t voted yet, please vote. If you haven’t voted yet, and you’re somehow still on the fence about whom to support…please think about our better angels in this country. Think about what we are turning into; think about the division, the hate, the rhetoric that has been spewing out of the White House. Think about the Trump supporters who tried to run the Biden – Harris campaign bus off the road…and think about Trump’s response to that, “I love Texas!” This is not normal. The FBI is investigating the incident as an act of domestic terrorism, and Trump is lauding them.

It’s not normal, but it’s also not surprising. Trump is a master in the nefarious art of stochastic terrorism. His “Lock her up” and “Liberate Michigan” chants led to a white supremacist group’s plan to kidnap and murder Governor Gretchen Whitmer. And then he said that “maybe it wasn’t a problem” and that he saved her…his FBI saved her and she should thank him. His words inspired this plot. His invitation to the Proud Boys, a white supremacist hate group, to “Stand down and stand by” may very well wreak more havoc today and in the coming days.

Many of Donald Trump’s supporters, or at least the most voiciferous ones, are taking heed of his words and are already intimidating voters. They have snarled traffic, bringing it to a standstill—like in New York and New Jersey—in mostly Democratic areas, making it more difficult to go to the polls. All of this is third-world nation, dictator-type stuff. And it’s a slippery slope. If Trump gets another four years, how long before he employs more shadow militia to pellet peaceful protesters with rubber bullets again? I would guess the answer is days, if not hours. Look at the peaceful march to the polls that ended with children being doused with pepper spray. There is too much at stake in this election to sit it out or even to vote third party. This could be our last free and fair election (and my fingers and toes are crossed that this one will actually be free and fair).

And I know as a straight, white woman I don’t have as much at stake if Trump wins again as many others. Yes, I have a laundry list of pre-existing conditions from asthma to Hashimoto’s to Factor XI Definciency (Hemophilia C), among others. I’m old enough to remember when pre-existing conditions caused me to go into debt when I was a young, single music journalist paying for my own healthcare. My youngest son also has a list of pre-existing conditions a mile long. And my other boys have some things too that could be blocks to them getting insurance, should protections be done away with. But, that is just a tiny part of why I am so distraught at the thought of a Trump presidency. The bigger picture is everything else we as a nation stand to lose if those who are marginalized are demonized, as well.

I worry about my black and brown friends; my LGBTQ family and friends (and especially those who fall into both groups); I worry incessantly about the 545 children torn from their families, traumatized and stranded at the border. I worry about disabled folks and Trump’s constant mocking of them. I worry about my son who is on the autism spectrum (Aspergers) and also has Tourette’s (plus all those other pre-existing conditions I mentioned). I worry about climate change and the world we will leave our children, since it’s already burning and slammed with ferocious storms, and the current occupant thinks climate change is a hoax. Speaking of denying science, I worry about how much worse covid will get with no plan, except to fire one of the world’s foremost infectious disease experts and hope for herd immunity. I worry about our brave troops, disparaged by Trump as “suckers and losers.” I worry about civility and discourse. I just worry.

So…that’s why I’m asking if you didn’t vote yet, and you think your vote doesn’t matter; if you think a vote for a third party is sending “a message” to the Dems; or if you’ve run Joe Biden and Kamala Harris through a purity grinder and found them lacking—put the good of the country first, I’m begging you. Let’s get this country back on track. Let’s be who we know we are…kind, inclusive, optimistic and way better united, than divided. Thank you. And if you’ve already cast your vote for compassion, thank you from the bottom of my heart. This is our moment of truth. Let’s make the most of it, before it’s too late.

Dear Mr. Trump (Part 2)

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Dear Mr. Trump,

Stop. Please. Just. Stop. Stop making our presidential debates #NSFW (Not Suitable for Work) affairs. Stop caring less about the issues facing our nation and your policies (if you have any) than your race to prove that you’re not as despicable as Bill Clinton. Newsflash, not only is Bill Clinton not running, but all of those allegations from decades ago have never been proven. Did he do sleazy stuff? Sure. But it was, until proven otherwise, consensual sleazy stuff and Hillary Clinton should not be blamed for it. You even said back when this was last in the news that she is a “wonderful woman” to be so strong (video link below). Did she call Monica Lewinsky a “neurotic  loony toon?” I don’t doubt that. If I found out a woman did what Lewinsky did to my husband, you better believe I’d call her far worse. None of these things make Hillary Clinton look bad. Bringing them up just makes you look bad, since…shall we say you have more than a few skeletons in your closet.

Did you not cheat on your first two wives, tossing them over for newer models? Oh wait, you did. Are you not the subject of a civil rights lawsuit filed by a woman who claimed you viciously raped her when she was thirteen years old? Hmm, that would be yes again. Not only that, but you are on record saying this about your buddy, convicted level-three sex offender (the highest level) and “billionaire-pedophile,” Jeffrey Epstein: “I’ve known Jeff for 15 years. Terrific guy. He’s a lot of fun to be with. It is even said that he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side. No doubt about it, Jeffrey enjoys his social life.” Yes, I bolded “on the younger side.” On the younger side for a middle-aged man should be thirty or even thirty-five, not thirteen. There’s more, of course, but this letter would be far too long if I included all the despicable stuff you’ve done…

Now, I know the defense to all this will be, “But Hillary Clinton defended a rapist, got him freed and laughed about it later.” No she didn’t. (Links below debunk this thoroughly.) She was a court-appointed defender and tried to recuse herself more than once. The prosecution’s case was flawed and her client pleaded guilty, thus the plea deal. She was just doing her job, painful as it must have been for her. There’s absolutely no evidence that she ever laughed about it, though there are people who corroborate her story that she tried to get recused and that she was acutely uncomfortable in the role of defending this man, but had no choice.

Most importantly, did you or did you not brag about committing sexual assault on a hot mic and then deny doing it? Um yes, I believe that was you. Do you not realize that denying it is worse than contrition? By denying it now, you admit that you either lied on the tape or are lying now. Both are disturbing. In the first scenario, why would a man lie about kissing women without their consent and grabbing them by the genitals? To brag? To seem manly? To impress? Were you trying to impress Billy Bush by stating that you can get away with (and have gotten away with) sexual assault, because you’re a rich celebrity, but you didn’t actually commit such an assault? That’s just twisted. Or did you lie under the bright lights and scrutiny of the debate, denying doing heinous acts you actually committed? Well, that’s just unconscionable. So either way, you’re screwed.

And back to those debates, my almost twelve year old son had to watch the debate for social studies homework. It’s not fair that parents everywhere had to sit awkwardly with their children, fighting the urge to cover their ears whenever you spoke, because it was a class assignment for our children to listen to you. It’s not fair that I had to have a conversation with my sons instructing them never to act like you, never to treat women like objects. Though, perhaps I should thank you for opening up the conversation. And it’s not fair that you forced millions of women to relive nightmarish moments with your sense of entitlement over women’s bodies, and then brushed it off as “locker room talk.” Real men don’t speak like that, and it was gratifying to see all of the good men, including many athletes who spend their lives in locker rooms, take you to task for that comment.

I read that you plan on slinging more mud in the coming weeks in an attempt to deflect from your own shortcomings. You may rile up your base, but you’ll alienate far more people than you’ll bring in. So, please… Just. Stop.

Sincerely,

Stephanie Kepke

PS: If you don’t want people to think you’re a sexual predator, perhaps you should try a bit harder to not look like one at the third debate (see photo above)…

 

I could not embed links in this post for some reason, so here are all of my fact-checking links, backing up everything in the above letter. I spent well over two hours researching each point I made to make sure that each is, indeed, correct…

Hillary Clinton did not viciously attack Bill Clinton’s accusers (and the accusations themselves were never proven):

http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2016/oct/10/donald-trump/donald-trump-says-hillary-clinton-viciously-attack/

Donald Trump said that Hillary Clinton was wonderful for dealing with all of Bill Clinton’s infidelities:

http://www.cnn.com/2016/10/09/politics/trump-clinton-sex-then-vs-now/index.html

The civil lawsuit brought against Donald Trump stating he raped a thirteen year old girl:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/lisa-bloom/why-the-new-child-rape-ca_b_10619944.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/donald-trump-accused-underage-rape-lawsuit-a7352976.html

Hillary Clinton did not laugh about getting an accused rapist free (she didn’t even get him exonerated; he pleaded guilty):

http://www.snopes.com/hillary-clinton-freed-child-rapist-laughed-about-it/

http://www.politico.com/blogs/2016-presidential-debate-fact-check/2016/10/trump-is-wrong-hillary-clinton-did-not-laugh-about-the-rape-of-a-12-year-old-229455

Donald Trump’s Tape (in case you’ve been living under a rock):

https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/trump-recorded-having-extremely-lewd-conversation-about-women-in-2005/2016/10/07/3b9ce776-8cb4-11e6-bf8a-3d26847eeed4_story.html

Donald Trump’s plan to sling more mud:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/donald-trump-bill-hillary-clinton_us_57fc0212e4b0e655eab6eb22

 

 

The Ugly Election

 

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Drawing by my son, Aidan… It’s his dream and mine too…

 

A question has been haunting me this election season: If Donald Trump wins the presidency (I just bit my tongue), how can I possibly explain to my kids that America, their country—the land of the free and the home of the brave—thinks it’s okay to bully, mock and basically step upon anyone with whom you do not agree? Because really, that’s what Donald Trump’s nomination and recent rise in the polls says. It says that you can succeed by stepping on others. It says that hate is more important than love and fear is more important than tolerance. This isn’t the world I want for my children. I can’t be proud of this America.

My son told me that most, if not all, of the children in his school dislike Donald Trump. I believe this is because children are much better judges of character than many adults are. They don’t have that fear of “the other” that is so pervasive in Trump’s followers. As Hillary Clinton said, half of Trump’s supporters are people who are fed up with their situation in life and are looking for someone to fix it, but the other half are in that basket of deplorables—racists, xenophobes (which of course includes racists), misogynists, homophobes and on and on. Those in that basket are proud of the deplorable moniker. I’ve noticed lots of pro-Trump Twitter accounts have changed to user names which include “deplorable.” Of course, this essay is still a risk for me—I’m sure at least some of my followers are Trump supporters who do not wish to be called, “deplorable” (and are, in fact not deplorable), and I, of course, do not want to alienate anyone. But, there comes a time when speaking up in the face of unspeakable evil is more important than the amount of followers and likes I have. And it’s more important than worrying about offending anyone. It’s my job as a writer to speak my mind, to speak up for what I believe in. Which brings me to my next fear about a Trump presidency…

Donald Trump will shut down free press, like his hero, Vladimir Putin, has done in Russia. Trump has already banned several media outlets—The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Politico, to name a few—from his press conferences and campaign events, claiming that they treat him “unfairly.” (Here’s his “Blacklist.”) He eventually ended the ban earlier this month, in an attempt to seem not so “draconian” to voters rightfully offended by this dictatorial move, according to The Washington Post. But he has continued mocking and bullying journalists, especially on Twitter. His attack on New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is especially chilling, calling her “wacky” and a “neurotic dope” in two separate tweets (see screen grabs below—I did not want to link to them to give more exposure). His verbal abuse of journalists stretches back to the early days of his campaign and his feud with Megyn Kelly. And who could forget Trump’s disgusting imitation of a disabled journalist, (tiny) hands flailing about, speech pattern hatefully mocked?

I may not have ever worked as a serious news journalist—I reported on music, the arts and philanthropy—but I did work as a journalist for a few different newspapers back in the nineties, and freedom of the press is a right I hold very dearly. By mocking journalists, constantly complaining that journalists treat him unfairly and calling them the “lowest form of humanity,” Trump guaranteed that at least some will bow before him, lobbing him softball questions and not calling him out on blatant lies. Of course much of the blame for this pro-Trump biased media coverage is laid at the feet of that very media for not doing their jobs. But with Trump “gaming the refs,” it was bound to happen. Even scarier, a reporter from Vice, Alex Thompson (who happens to be Maureen Dowd’s former researcher), was not only turned away, but also arrested, when he tried to obtain press credentials to a Trump campaign event in Houston. This stinks from more than just a whiff of dictatorship… Reporters being arrested is right out of an oligarch’s playbook… Trump must have learned it from his buddy Putin. (And yes, I know Trump’s camp said it was the hotel, not Trump, who called police, but who gave hotel security Thompson’s name?)

This essay doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of all of the horrendous, unconscionable atrocities (and yes, I know that’s a bit redundant, but in this case, it fits the magnitude of the situation) Trump has committed through words and deed. All Hillary Clinton needs for her attack ads are Trump’s own words. Her brilliant ad asking if Trump is what we want for our daughters only needs to intersperse Trump’s viciousness with images of girls and young women. Watch it here. And then…there’s the  constant lying. I’m not sure why so many look the other way and think, “Oh that’s just Trump being Trump…,” and yet call Clinton a liar. Now though, Newsweek has dropped a bombshell that really should give all those supporters second thoughts about their savior—Trump has either committed perjury or lied during a primary debate. How can this person be our president?

I know my anxiety over this election is driving my husband crazy. I check poll forecasts with a frequency bordering on obsessive. I moan every time I see a Trump flag, sign or bumper sticker in my town, which is far too often in my estimation, especially in my very multi-cultural neighborhood. A huge Trump flag waving in the breeze seems like a giant middle finger to the many immigrants from different nations living around me, especially Muslims. I ponder moving to Canada and wonder how out-of-country college tuition compares to the out-of-state college tuition we are currently paying for my son. In reality, I know I can’t pick up my family and move, and I wouldn’t want to be so far away from my son (although I do love Canada and I do have family there). So, I’m left pondering what life would be like with a Trump presidency and quite frankly, it scares the crap out of me.

I know many people dislike and distrust Hillary Clinton. I’m not sure why, but I respect their opinions. I think a big part of it is all the conspiracy crap peddled by the alt-right. Do they forget that Karl Rove deleted 22 million emails when he was Secretary of State under George W. Bush? Do they not realize that there were thirteen attacks on foreign consulates during the Bush administration? Those chanting, “Lock her up!” would never have uttered a word back then. And what about all the good Hillary Clinton has done? She has worked tirelessly for women and children, for the poor and the disenfranchised. After 9/11, she was there for the people of New York, when not many in government were. As part of her health care plan, she wants to integrate mental health care benefits in with medical insurance. I can tell you, as the parent of a child with a mental illness, this is huge… And it seems like no one knows about it. It’s not talked about amidst all the noise about emails and the Clinton Foundation, which really should be a non-issue…

Even if Clinton wielded her influence to secure donations to the Clinton Foundation, which it hasn’t been proven she did, that money was used for all good. It has saved so many lives and champions the forgotten. It has a stellar rating from Charity Watch and nearly ninety percent of donations go right to people in need. That is extremely high. In contrast, donations to Trump’s foundation go to things like six foot tall paintings of himself and legal fees to fight the many lawsuits he’s been slapped with. Lawsuits, that for the most part, he’ll find a way to weasel out of – he has said as much to discourage people he has wronged from suing him. I know this is absolutely true.

I’ve heard of more than one person whom Trump stiffed to whom he replied, “Go ahead and sue me. You’ll never win.” It’s this habit of “sticking it to the little guy” that proves Trump is against working people. He cares only about himself…oh and Vladimir Putin. He thinks Putin is a better leader than Barack Obama, and likely would emulate him. Oh, and he’s $650 million in debt to many financial institutions, including the Bank of China and who knows what other foreign interests (as an aside, Trump is also in debt to Goldman Sachs, an institution he’s claimed owns Hillary Clinton). With debts to foreign banks and many investments in Russia, Trump would undoubtedly have a conflict of interest. Plus, a Trump presidency would be a disaster not just for our country, but for the world. Allowing Russia to run roughshod over other countries, dissolving NATO, starting World War Three over a tweet. Nuking a smaller country, because if someone looks at you the wrong way, you have to “bomb the hell out of them…”

Mostly though, a Donald Trump presidency would be a disaster for our youth. Civil discourse was already nearly extinct before the rise of Trump, thanks to keyboard cowboys and the vast cesspool of hate dwelling just beneath the surface of the Internet. Oh, I’m sorry—it’s not just beneath the surface anymore. It’s now bubbled right up to the top and white supremacists; neo-Nazis; misogynists of every stripe; the stupid and the hateful; bigots; xenophobes; and just your run of the mill assholes have been given free reign to release their vitriol in burning streams, like a blustery, rhetoric filled volcano blanketing and destroying everything in its path. This is the future that awaits our children – one in which kindness and compassion are old-fashioned currency, like the pennies left in bowls next to cash registers, too useless to even merit pocketing. I weep for this world, and I will vote blue right down the line…

 

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Notice the first reply (for both tweets) – “Deplorable Pepe”

 

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Dear Mr. Trump…

drewshak

A Muslim and a Jew working together to accomplish great things… Take note, Mr. Trump…

Dear Mr. Trump,

In kindergarten, my son met a boy whose family had recently immigrated to New York from Pakistan (and were originally from Afghanistan). We did not shun him, thinking that his brethren might be terrorists. And this was at a time when the bloodshed of 9/11 was a fresh wound—merely two years prior. No, we encouraged the friendship with this devout Muslim boy. As Jews, our faith taught us to embrace those who may not look or sound like us, those who do not necessarily believe the same things we do. And we taught our children this. True Christians believe the same. You Sir, are not a true Christian. If you were, you would not be spewing such virulent rhetoric every single time you open your mouth.

But, I digress from my story about two little boys who met in kindergarten—a Muslim and a Jew—and became best friends. Those little boys are now heading off to college. One will go to Hofstra, where—if you don’t find a way to weasel out of it—you will be torn to shreds by Hillary Clinton in the first debate. Your lack of knowledge on foreign affairs alone (Putin isn’t in Crimea yet? Or wait—no he is, but they want him there. Which is it, Mr. Trump?), puts you at a ridiculous disadvantage. Sorry the NFL refused to play into your plan of canceling the debate, because it’s at the same time as a football game (did you think anyone in their right mind would believe they sent you a letter complaining about it?). But again, I digress…

This is a story about the devout Muslim and the conservative (in religion, not views) Jew. As they grew older, their bond grew stronger. And not only did their friendship flourish, but the friendship of their younger brothers, as well. (This made me very happy—both brothers are smart, respectful and kind, great influences on my boys.) Most summer afternoons could find the four brothers shooting hoops or riding bikes. But, the Muslim brothers have another younger brother who could do none of these things. He has cerebral palsy (we all know how you really feel about the disabled, after mocking the disabled journalist—but yet again, I digress…) and cannot perform even the most basic of self-care tasks. So, what did my son and his friend (remember—the Muslim and the Jew) do? They joined together to design a bathroom for those incapable of self-care. This bathroom design has won many awards, including the Yale Science and Engineering Award, second place honors at the Long Island Science and Engineering Fair (LISEF), among many other prestigious awards. I’m beyond proud of both of them. This design can literally change the lives of millions of disabled people. They used their intelligence and strong bond to work together to make the world better place—a devout Muslim and a conservative Jew. Imagine that?

No really, please try to imagine that, Mr. Trump. Please try to wrap your brain around the fact that there are good Muslims in this country. In fact, there are far more good Muslims than those who have been radicalized. The fact that you have sought to link the Gold Star family of Captain Humayun Khan to terrorists is reprehensible at best and slanderous at worst. The family could easily sue you for defamation. I hope you lose every veteran vote in this country for your failure to show even the smallest modicum of decency. Khizr Khan was right when he said you have “a black soul.”

This is just the latest serious blunder on your part, in a series of blunders that should really have meant political suicide. How you can possibly disparage pretty much every group, except for white men and still have anyone’s vote (other than your rabid—and hopefully shrinking—base) is beyond me. I blame social media. The rise of social media has coincided with the decline of civility. People can say whatever they want under the mantle of anonymity. It’s much easier for a bigoted person to hurl insults when it’s simply his or her fingers flying over a keyboard, rather than in a face to face conversation. And that has given rise to the vast cesspool of hate swirling around the Internet from which your candidacy has sprung.

And your followers eat it up. Anti-semitic memes smearing Hillary Clinton? Check. Promising an entire religion will be banned from our great country, Constitution be damned? Check. Stating that all Mexican immigrants are drug lords and rapists? Check. (Oh, sorry—you did say, “Some, I assume, are good people.”) Mocking the disabled? Check. Reducing women’s worth to merely their appearance? Check. Even supermodels can’t escape your critical eye with your assertion that gorgeous Heidi Klum is “sadly…no longer a 10.” At least she had the last laugh with her cheeky video and the hashtag #HeidiTrumpsTrump.

And that’s all that I can hope for—that the American people will have the last laugh as you are swept into the dustbin of history, along with other demagogues. You Sir, are no more than a small-minded despot who appeals to the lowest common denominator. (And yes, I know that some Trump supporters are good people, because I personally know some friends and family members who support him—I’m talking about the David Duke types.) I know that you will never read this, Mr. Trump—it’s like the letter you write to a horrible ex-boyfriend, but never send. It’s just cathartic writing it. But, I do hope that this story of a devout Muslim and a Jew accomplishing something great together makes at least one of your supporters think twice about voting in a future so bleak, it scares the crap out of me…

Sincerely,

Stephanie Kepke

As a side note, I was told three years ago not to wade into politics as a writer—I would run the risk of alienating my readers. I have not written a political post since. But it’s my job as an essayist to share my views of the world and to me, this election is about so much more than politics. It’s about where this country is headed—do we want to be a society based on fear and hate or one based on love and acceptance? Do we want to see everyone who doesn’t look like us, who doesn’t sound like us as the “other” whom we need to rail against? Or are we “stronger together?” I’m rooting for stronger together…

I wanted to close this with the famous quote about all evil needing to triumph is good men doing nothing. In researching the quote, I stumbled upon a similar quote by Simon Wiesenthal. It was a very powerful moment. You see, Simon Wiesenthal is my cousin. He was my grandfather’s first cousin. He and my grandfather looked very much alike. When I look at my kids and their first cousins, I think—that’s pretty  darn close. Suddenly, it occurred to me that this desire to right wrongs, this desire to champion social justice is actually in my blood. And that connected me to a bigger world and made me realize that making my voice heard is so very important, scary as it is to send this out into cyber-space, knowing that I might have vitriol slung at me from the depths of that hate-filled cesspool of the Internet…

Simon Wisenthal may have very well predicted the rise of Donald Trump with these quotes, published in 1989:

Hatred can be nurtured anywhere, idealism can be perverted into sadism anywhere. If hatred and sadism combine with modern technology the inferno could erupt anew anywhere.—Simon Wiesental (from Justice Not Vengeance: Recollections, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989)

The combination of hatred and technology is the greatest danger threatening mankind.—Simon Wiesenthal (from Justice Not Vengeance: Recollections, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989)

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This quote by my cousin, Simon Wiesenthal, is as true today as when he said it…